Impression China – Foreign teacher Harrison’s painting exhibition

The final weeks of Peace Corps (June – mid July) have been crazy busy for me, in all the best ways possible. One major highlight has been curating and attending an art exhibit of my own work from these past two years! (how selfish, I know, I know!)Fullscreen capture 7142018 111003 PM.bmp

Brian Zhou – my boss here, and close friend – had brought this idea up a couple times earlier in the year, that it would be a great way end my service here, an homage to the highlights of my time in China. I sent his department a flashdrive of high quality 600 dpi scans of just over 40 sketches, along with a low-res selfie and a brief written introduction.Fullscreen capture 7142018 112352 PM.bmp

the final product was exactly what I wanted and more, the cherry/ icing on top of an already perfect peace corps cake! The exhibit was conveniently placed outside the main entrance of classrooms for maximum foot traffic and visibility. I brought all my students to come and bask in my glory during their final week of classesFullscreen capture 7142018 111051 PM.bmp

Even Martin and Noel (who never attend class) came out to show their support!Fullscreen capture 7142018 111145 PM.bmp

The kids were quick to point out a sketch of Bobby, the previous volunteer at our schoolFullscreen capture 7142018 111056 PM.bmp

I was famous for a week- students of past and present swung by to view the sketchesFullscreen capture 7142018 111026 PM.bmp

We took jumping pics…Fullscreen capture 7142018 111222 PM.bmp

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And lots of selfies…

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…All around ridiculous photosFullscreen capture 7142018 111102 PM.bmp

(its not everyday you get to pick the nose of your blown-up selfie. Take advantage of whimsical opportunities life throws at you)Fullscreen capture 7142018 111139 PM.bmp

Several group photos of the sophomoresFullscreen capture 7142018 111032 PM.bmp

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And my favorite teachers – Brian Zhou and Ciara (experimental dance teacher) – came to show some love. What an unforgettable experience!Fullscreen capture 7142018 111243 PM.bmp


Peace Corps Soundtrack: Top Five songs from my time in China

I wouldn’t leave China without writing a post about my five favorite Chinese songs from my time here! (Actually, there are six songs –a tie – because everyone’s a winner these days, right??) I picked up all these songs from KTV, in shopping malls or bars, and from the school loudspeakers. Interestingly, all six songs are from male singers or male groups.

In contrast, my favorite western singers are overwhelmingly female – Rihanna, Shakira, Carley Rae, Britney, Taylor, Janet etc. In the west, female musicians are charismatic and carve out individual niches for themselves- they are strong vocalists, have Twitter feuds and iconic clapbacks, boast about their finances/ bodies/ reputations, get drunk and stay out till 6 AM, fuck men for their own pleasure and detail said escapades in lyrics, etc etc.IMG_7921.JPG

Female singers in China have no such luck – they’re mostly interchangeable, one-dimensional, lifeless mannequins – all very skinny and sun-deprived with surgically enhanced eyelids and fake, virginal smiles. Their songs are predictably slow, sad, piano driven breakup ballads, sung with the lightest and most delicate of paper-thin voices.

Their personas are quarantined into G-rated tropes of what an ideal daughter/ girlfriend/ wife/ future mother should be. In twenty five months of living in China, there wasn’t a single song by a female vocalist that I bothered to look up on YouTube or add to iTunes.

I have rarely thought about gender equality through the prism of music, but I think it’s safe to say female musicians in America and the west are much closer to achieving gender equality – or at the very least, being free and being themselves – than their counterparts in Asia.

Anyway, back to my favorite songs!

#5 (Tie) Hu Xia: Those Bygone Years 那些年51WgKCSgz8L._SS500.jpg

The closing credit song to a Taiwanese (of course!) coming of age film about a group of friends in their final year of high school. Every millennial in China has seen it. I played the song in class once and everyone sang along, so I stood up and pretended to stand in front of an orchestra waving my two arms furiously, like a blind/ deaf conductor.

#5 (Tie) Xu Wei: Blue Lotus 蓝莲花19673606_141255038000_2.jpg

Blue Lotus sounds like late 90s, early 2000s Goo Goo Dolls (or any alt-rock band from 1997 – 2002) As it turns out, this song is almost 20 years old, which is why it is stylistically reminiscent of my childhood favorites on z100 radio. Anyway the song is still very popular and I hear it everywhere. Hard to understand the lyrics except the chorus, which is “Lan Lian Huaaaaaaaa…!” (蓝莲花!)

#4 Ryan.B: Never Again 再也没有maxresdefault.jpg

A very smooth, minimalist hip hop song about a breakup, set against the ticking hand of a clock. Nicely done. I heard this all the time on campus- it was played at 2:10 in the afternoons on the loudspeaker, as the kids headed to their 2:30 class.

#3 NZBZ: My Sky 我的天空20171220012324870

The only rap group included on the list. I was so certain one of the guys was wearing blackface when I watched the music video for My Sky. Turns out I’m just racist, and he is of the Wa people from Yunnan province, bordering Vietnam, Laos and Burma, and they have much darker complexion than the Han Chinese. The song is about holding onto your dreams even as the rest of the world around you burns to ashes.

Zhao Lei: Chengdu 成都maxresdefault (1)

I love love love Zhao Lei’s music. Zhao Lei is an excellent songwriter, and his albums are consistent in quality, about the day to day comings and goings of ordinary Chinese. Frequently, he will add the sounds of light traffic, or spinning bicycle wheels, or giddy children’s laughter, or a nagging mosquito to open a song. His music is uncomplicated- mostly an acoustic guitar, sometimes a harmonica, piano, bells or light percussion – and so, so, welcome in a frantic and chaotic China.

The song Chengdu is Zhao Lei’s gift to the magical city, an homage to its slow pace of life, countless streams and canals, and welcoming, late-night street cafes and eateries. I am so grateful to have spent three months of training in Chengdu, plus week long trips back between each semester for training/ medical.

Su Yang: Able and Virtuous 贤良27671044_800_800From the northwest. We (Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai provinces) own this song. Outsiders wouldn’t understand the lyrics, seemingly about nothing – pomegranates, a windmill, chili peppers, and cow herders- but the song is actually about a man’s sex drive and unrepentant masculinity. The song crescendos into an orgy of tibetan horns, a southern fiddle, and Su Yang on vocals that sounds like he’s howling from the top of Qilian mountain

Semester Four Sketches

I drew twice as many sketches this semester as I did for the first semester – Peace Corps just got better and better, and there were so many meaningful experiences worth putting down in ink and water color in my final four months here

CheerleadersFullscreen capture 762018 34953 PM.bmp

Peace Corps ChinaFullscreen capture 762018 35027 PM.bmp

Gold Filigree BoxFullscreen capture 762018 35033 PM.bmp

Xi’An Drum TowerFullscreen capture 762018 35039 PM.bmp

HarbinFullscreen capture 762018 35045 PM.bmp

Zhangye Wooden PagodaFullscreen capture 762018 35051 PM.bmp

SongbirdsFullscreen capture 762018 35057 PM.bmp

Dog WalkingFullscreen capture 762018 35103 PM.bmp

Cuifeng MountainFullscreen capture 762018 35109 PM.bmp

BikeshareFullscreen capture 762018 35121 PM.bmp

MarketFullscreen capture 762018 35126 PM.bmp

Shapowei District in XiamenFullscreen capture 762018 35134 PM.bmp

1915 Beef NoodlesFullscreen capture 762018 35140 PM.bmp

Dr INK CafeFullscreen capture 762018 35146 PM.bmp

WeddingFullscreen capture 762018 35152 PM.bmp

thats a wrap for my peace corps sketches! just over 40 sketches over 2 years, covering all aspects of life – travels, meals, students, weddings, day to day shenanigans on campus…

for crappy resolution scans for previous semesters, please see below:

semester one

semester two

semester three

Great Wall Cinema Park and Lanzhou New Area

Every time I head to the airport some 40 miles north of Lanzhou, in the final minutes of my ride I always pass a giant replica Sphinx and Acropolis rising out of the desert dust, and an endless expanse of construction in the background. This week I finally took an hour long bus ride to visit these structures and find out more about “Lanzhou New Area”!

Great Wall Cinema Park

At the edge of Lanzhou New Area sits “the Great Wall Cinema Park” where the Sphinx and Beijing’s Temple of Heaven are casually hanging out. A ticket costs 50 RMB, and another 10 RMB gets you access to a sight-seeing cart, which I took because I wasn’t in the mood to walk across this large but sparsely decorated park/ movie set.Fullscreen capture 6242018 63049 PM.bmp.jpg

The Cinema Park is mish-mosh of cultural heritage sites- Forbidden City to your right, a scaled down Tang Dynasty DaMing Palace to the left…Fullscreen capture 6242018 70316 PM.bmp.jpg

…and then suddenly, a massive Transformer’s head the size of a small hill greets you around the corner.Fullscreen capture 6242018 63118 PM.bmp

I suppose it’s fitting that something Transformers related shows up at this park; the franchise has been hugely popular in China, and several films had extra scenes spliced in with Chinese stars for the mainland market.

I should recommend they add a monument of Kim Kardashian’s ass here too, as she is equally influential around the world, the perfect role model for a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs who will give up anything to make it big and #haveitall! #womenwhowork #bossladyFullscreen capture 6242018 63023 PM.bmp

Anyway, I reach the southern end of the park where the Sphinx is resting. It’s not at all out of place here in the desert, neglected and alone in the sand and dust. I can’t comment on the artistic integrity of the structure (my only planned trip to Cairo was cancelled in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring). I hate it when citizens fighting for democracy disrupt my well-deserved vacations to authoritarian countries a swing set in front of the Sphinx ruins my perfect selfie!Fullscreen capture 6242018 63037 PM.bmp

Next up is the Parthenon, which I have been fortunate enough to see in 2009 (also near the height of the Greek debt crisis- bad timing all around) It’s likely a 1:1 replica, replete with missing portions of the façade, due to looting by the British asshole Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin from 1801 onward.   Fullscreen capture 6242018 63030 PM.bmp

And then there was this structure a few steps east of the Parthenon, a large cerulean-blue tiled pavilion. Worldly Harrison was so, so certain it came from Shiraz or Isfahan in Iran.

How romantic 浪漫, the idea that two architectural structures from millennia old rival civilizations – both ravaged beyond recognition by the neoliberalism (first Iran in 1953, when a secular and democratically elected Mohammed Mosaddegh was overthrown by the British government and CIA to protect the revenue streams of the oil and gas company known today as BP, and now Greece held hostage by the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank for failing to pay back risky, artificially cheap loans originated by private German and French banks [why are ordinary citizens responsible for failed investments made by private financial services groups?!?]) – now sit side by side in an empty movie park, next to Lanzhou airport.

But no, the lady driving my sight-seeing cart tells me it was just a random pavilion built for the Hui people in Lanzhou. My inner historian and faux-economist are crestfallen.

Lanzhou New Area

China is infamous for ghost cities; Ordos in Inner Mongolia is probably the most notorious, a $160 billion USD gleaming modern city meant to be home to one million occupants but is mostly empty a decade after completion. (a photo of Ordos from GettyImages below)gettyimages-125673327.jpg

Municipal governments across China build these mega cities in the middle of nowhere – complete with museums, soccer stadiums, artificial lakes, parks, etc.) to reach public spending/ economic growth quotas, only to find there was never a real demand for these “new development areas” to begin with. Fullscreen capture 6242018 65837 PM.bmp.jpg

I have faith that Lanzhou New Area is different- tens of thousands of Chinese outsiders (外地人) from more provincial parts of Gansu and the west move to Lanzhou each year. There is genuine demand for housing (Lanzhou is sandwiched between mountains on the north and south side- the city cannot physically expand beyond its current borders),

By 2030 one million people are expected to move in as full time residents. There is a promotional video for the new city, stylistically similar to propaganda clips from the Trump and Kim Jong-Un administrations, for interested investors.Fullscreen capture 6242018 42643 PM.bmp

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lanzhou New Area’s 5 hospitals and 75 public schools are up and running near capacity by the end of the next decade. For now, it’s still a surreal experience to take a bus through the Lanzhou New Area.Fullscreen capture 6242018 63555 PM.bmp

In New York you see the occasional skyscraper built; in Chengdu you might see dozens of residential complex apartments rising simultaneously in the outer city rings. But here, the entire city is still under construction- hundreds of commercial and residential towers are half finished, stretching for miles on end. I wish I had a drone to capture a bird’s eye view of the construction frenzy.Fullscreen capture 6242018 63614 PM.bmp

Vast roads meant for six lanes of traffic are mostly unused. Interestingly, it seems all of the vegetation has already been planted, giving the trees and parks a decade to mature before they are put to daily use- pretty good planning!Fullscreen capture 6242018 63604 PM.bmp

Most of the finished apartments sit empty, but there are pockets of residential life where some people have permanently moved in. I ate a bowl of tomato and egg noodles and asked the guys at the shop about the cost of the apartments- currently under 5,000 RMB per square meter (half of the price in Lanzhou proper, less than 1/15 the price in Tier 1 cities). I should invest in an apartment here, instead of a master’s degree…

Fullscreen capture 6242018 63537 PM.bmpI quietly relished in the experience of riding the new cross-town bus (with new car smell!) as the only passenger; Probably the only time in my life living in China that this will ever happen!